The story of Sijnn (pronounced ‘sane,’ derived from the Khosian word for ‘riverbank’) is, literally, a long and winding road. In 2000, David and Rita Trafford of De Trafford Wines were on vacation in Malgas, a very rural town at the mouth of the Breede River Valley about three hours east of Cape Town. The land here looks like Chateauneuf-du-Pape if it were planted on the moon atop the Mosel, if the Mosel were located just 10 miles from the Indian Ocean. They stumbled fortuitously up a bumpy, 25-mile dirt road to the site that would become the monopole of Sijnn, as it is and was the only winery/vineyard within 40 miles. David and Rita were immediately intrigued by this raw environment, and a purchase agreement with three minor shareholders, including Simon Farr (founder of Bibendum Wine in the U.K.) was drawn up. More than 200 soil profiles later, twelve hectares of vines were planted and the name Sijnn Wines was appropriated to the venture.
For about the first decade, the grapes were trucked down to the De Trafford winery in Stellenbosch for vinification. That all changed in 2014 when an on-site winery was constructed, and Charla Bosman joined the team as head winemaker. After studying at the University of Stellenbosch, Charla earned her stripes working harvests at Kanonkop and Tokara, and she made the inaugural old vine Chenin Blanc for Patatsfontein, which is something of a cult wine these days. From there she hopped across the pond for a stint with Margerum Wines in Santa Barbara. By the time she hit her silver jubilee, she had become the head winemaker at Sijnn, trading in her urban comforts for the hinterland of Malgas.
Today Sijnn is known for their plantings of Mediterranean varieties like Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Tempranillo, Chenin Blanc and Viognier. Lately they’ve begun to experiment with new alternative varieties, like Roussanne and Verdelho, as well as the usual international suspects Grenache and Cab. (David “didn’t want to die wondering what Cabernet from Malgas would taste like.”) The winemaking is a simple, no-frills approach that vividly captures their wild and rugged home. As these wines age, the “sense of place becomes bigger than the variety,” David says. The ability to impart this “geographical signature,” as Jancis Robinson calls it, is the holy grail of winemaking. Having achieved by her early thirties what others strive for in a lifetime, Charla was rightfully awarded the Tim Atkin Young Winemaker of the Year award in 2022.
James Molesworth of Wine Spectator put it simply when he said, “I think it’s important for anyone who appreciates the efforts that go into making wine to try and track down a few bottles of Sijnn. There are few projects that epitomize such a soulful, pioneering approach to winemaking.”